Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Credit: Virgin Galactic

Legislation from Senior Ways and Means Democrat would tax space travel for non-scientific research purposes

As the space tourism race continues today, U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, previewed a new space tax.

The Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act would create new excise taxes on commercial space flights carrying human passengers for purposes other than scientific research.

New Shepard reusable booster.
Credit: Blue Origin/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

“Space exploration isn’t a tax-free holiday for the wealthy. Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some,” said Blumenauer in a statement. “I’m not opposed to this type of space innovation. However, things that are done purely for tourism or entertainment, and that don’t have a scientific purpose, should in turn support the public good.” 

Environmental impact

As this budding space tourism industry takes shape, Blumenauer is particularly concerned about the environmental impact of sending humans into space, particularly when there is no scientific value associated with the launch. The number of trips to space are expected to increase, with Virgin Galactic planning to eventually launch a shuttle of passengers into space, on average, every 32 hours.

Practicing liftoff of commercial space travel, Virgin Galactic visionary, Richard Branson.
Credit: Jack Brockway

While proponents of suborbital space flights point to transatlantic flights as having similar carbon footprints, these flights carry significantly more passengers and travel much farther. The result is space launches accounting for an estimated 60-times greater emissions than transatlantic flights on a per-passenger basis, enough to drive a car around the earth and more than twice the carbon budget recommended in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Researchers are also actively exploring the impact of space launches on accelerating the depletion of stratospheric ozone, which is orders of magnitude greater for rocket engines using alumina-producing solid rocket fuel or black soot-producing kerosene.

Blue Origin’s orbital rocket, New Glenn. Credit: Blue Origin

Per-passenger tax

Blumenauer envisions the SPACE Tax Act to include a per-passenger tax on the price of a commercial flight to space, like that for commercial aviation.

Pay-per-view aboard New Shepard.
Credit: Blue Origin/Inside Outer Space screengrab

It would also include a two-tiered excise tax for each launch into space. The first tier would apply to suborbital flights exceeding 50 miles above the Earth’s surface but not exceeding 80 miles above the Earth’s surface. The second tier, which would levy a significantly higher excise tax, would apply for orbital flights exceeding 80 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Exemptions would be made available for NASA spaceflights for scientific research purposes. In the case of flights where some passengers are working on behalf of NASA for scientific research purposes and others are not, the launch excise tax shall be the pro rata share of the non-NASA researchers.

From Niall McCarthy, Data Journalist at

Once denied the chance to go into space by the U.S. government due to her gender back in the 1960s, Wally Funk finally fulfilled her lifelong dream yesterday. Funk is a highly experienced pilot with a whopping 18,600 hours in the cockpit and she was part of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin crew that conducted an 11-minute flight yesterday.

Credit: Blue Origin

At 82 years of age, Funk became the oldest person to go into space, breaking a record set by John Glenn in 1998.



After becoming the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, Glenn retired as an astronaut and became a senator for a number of years. The famed astronaut returned to space in October 1998 when he took part in a mission onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery at the age of 77.

Franklin Story Musgrave is the only astronaut to have flown onboard all five Space Shuttles and he is the third-oldest person to make it into space thanks to a 1996 flight onboard the Shuttle Columbia, according to website

Credit: Chicago Review Press




Book Review: Wally Funk’s Race for Space – The Extraordinary Story of a Female Aviation Pioneer




Blue Origin successfully completed New Shepard’s first human flight today with four private citizens onboard. The crew included Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, who all officially became astronauts when they passed the Kármán Line, the internationally recognized boundary of space.

Go to Blue Origin at:

Replay – New Shepard First Human Flight at:

Replay – First Human Flight Post-Flight Press Conference:

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Three Chinese astronauts, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, have worked and lived in the space station core module for a month since the Shenzhou-12 piloted spacecraft was launched into space.

The astronauts have been in good condition after completing their first extravehicular operations, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA). A second spacewalk is scheduled to take place.

A second spacewalk is scheduled.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s space station is operating smoothly, with the trio of Taikonauts busily carrying out various duties, such as collection of trace elements in the air and performing routine medical examinations.

Exercise regime

According to China Central Television (CCTV), telecommunication facilities on board the core module enable the crew to watch the Xinwen Lianbo (News Simulcast), a domestic news program. Since they are stationed in the core module, the ground support team has been regularly sending them news programs, to keep them up to date on what is occurring on Earth.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

They exercise for about an hour after watching the news, using sports facilities in the core module, such as an exercise bike and a treadmill.

“Their physical fatigue, sleep, eating and drinking water, the whole body metabolism, nutrition, health status, through our comprehensive evaluation, are very good,” Xu Chong, director of the medical supervision and insurance department of China Astronaut Research and Training Center told CCTV.

According to the ground supporting team, the astronauts’ exercise amount and intensity were decided in terms of their own physical conditions. Each of them has their own exercise plan.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“It’s a daily routine for the astronauts to do exercise. We have formulated different exercise plans for each of the three astronauts, with a training intensity reaching 60 to 80 percent of their maximum capacity. That’s a medium to high intensity for them. As they stay longer in space, we have to increase the intensity of their exercise plans, so that they are able to maintain the physiological effects against weightlessness,” said Li Yinghui, the deputy chief designer of the astronaut system with China Astronaut Research and Training Center.

Space experiments

Starting Saturday, the space travelers put on heart rate and rhythm recording devices as part of experiments in space medicine. For the first time ever, China’s space station used a scientific research cabinet that is capable of conducting space medicine and space life science experiments, setting a total of 49 space experiment projects.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

During the Shenzhou 12 mission in space, the astronauts will complete 14 of them.

“We set three aims for these 14 experimental projects. The first one is that the mission needs the technologies that are able to support advanced development, so the projects were set for making technical reserves to support the mission,” said Li.

“The second one is to set sights on the leading edge, so as to obtain new discoveries and new explorations. The third one is to continuously accumulate long-term flight data,” Li told CCTV.

For a video update on China space station operations issued by CCTV/China National Space Administration (CNSA), go to:

China has had a long-standing interest in reusable space planes. This photo represents one concept under evaluation. No images released have shown the reusable suborbital carrier that flew late last week.
Courtesy: Jean Deville/China Aerospace Blog


China has flown a reusable suborbital carrier, a craft that touched down at an airport in Alxa League in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Launched on Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert, the maiden flight of the prototype of a reusable suborbital aerospace plane was declared successful. The suborbital vehicle landed horizontally at the Alxa Right Banner Airport.

The craft was developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). “The development of reusable space transportation technology is an important symbol of China’s transition to a major space power,” CASC said in a statement.

China’s Alxa Right Banner Airport

Little detail has been made available about the vehicle, its design and overall capabilities. CASC did not say how high the plane flew, or elaborate on its flight path.

Orbital space plane

In a China Daily story, they explained that in September 2020, the company flight-tested a reusable experimental orbital spacecraft from the Jiuquan center. It did not publish detailed information, photos or videos about that test.

Artwork depicts a notional Chinese space plane design.
Credit: CNSA

“China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, another space contractor, is also working on a reusable aerospace plane and plans to put it to commercial flight by 2030,” China Daily reports. “The company said it has conducted a key flight test by a conceptual demonstration prototype to verify the propulsion shift mechanism between ramjet and rocket engine.”

Designers have said that such a vehicle can be used in a wide range of operations, China Daily adds, such as space tourism, astronaut commuting, satellite deployment, cargo transportation and emergency rescue.

Courtesy: Jean Deville/China Aerospace Blog

Lengthy runway

In related news, NPR has published sets of photos taken by commercial satellites showing construction underway of buildings at a remote airfield supporting a three-mile-long runway. The growing airfield is on the edge of China’s former nuclear weapons test range at Lop Nur.

China’s orbital space plane is believed to have landed at this airfield.

Go to these NPR stories:

Satellite Photos Show China Expanding Its Mysterious Desert Airfield

New Chinese Space Plane Landed At Mysterious Air Base, Evidence Suggests

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3179 tasks.

Reports Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University; Milton Keynes, U.K., the rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) have been looking at the drill fines of the “Pontours” drill hole – the robot’s 32nd drill hole.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo acquired on Sol 3178, July 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity is sitting in an “exciting and very interesting looking area,” Schwenzer adds. “Around the drill site, we have spotted many different textures and colors; and as we know from being on Mars for over 3100 sols now, different colors and textures may mean interesting discoveries.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo acquired on Sol 3178, July 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Colorful features

The decision was made for Curiosity to investigate the more reddish features spotted on a rock close to the rover with its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam), investigating a target called “Belcayre.” There are also darker features on the same rock.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3178, July 15, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot’s Mastcam is targeting “La Bastide” as well, adding multispectral information to the dataset. Mastcam is also targeting “Lempzours,” which is a resistant feature in the distance. “The mosaic will expand an existing mosaic to give us even more information on the many textures in this scene,” Schwenzer concludes.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3177, July 14, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Methane spikes

Meanwhile, an intriguing research paper has been published – “Mars Methane Sources in Northwestern Gale Crater Inferred from Back-Trajectory Modeling” — work led by Yangcheng Luo of the California Institute of Technology.

“During its five years of operation, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) on board the Curiosity rover has detected six methane spikes above a low background abundance in Gale crater. The methane spikes are likely the consequence of nearby surface emission,” Luo and colleagues write.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3177, July 14, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The paper notes that almost all of the methane in the present-day Earth’s atmosphere can be traced back to biological origins.

“This may invoke a coincidence that we selected a landing site for Curiosity that is located next to an active methane emission site. Another possibility that does not invoke the coincidence is the existence of fast methane removal mechanisms that are unknown to date.”





To read the full paper, “Mars Methane Sources in Northwestern Gale Crater Inferred from Back-Trajectory Modeling,” go to:

Credit: Axiom Space

Thales Alenia Space in Rome and Axiom Space of Houston, Texas have signed the final contract for the development of two key pressurized elements of Axiom Space Station – the world’s first commercial space station.

Scheduled for launch in 2024 and 2025 respectively, the two elements will originally be docked to the International Space Station (ISS), marking the birth of the new Axiom Station segment.

Axiom Station will serve as a central hub for research, manufacturing and commerce in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), expanding the usable and habitable volume of the ISS, attached to the ISS Node 2 module, built also by Thales Alenia Space.

Credit: Axiom Space

Free-flying lab

When the ISS is decommissioned, the Axiom modules will detach and operate as a free-flying, next-generation commercial space station, a laboratory and residential infrastructure in space that will be used for microgravity experiments in-space manufacturing, critical exploration life support testing, and hosting both private and professional institutional astronauts.

The first two elements to be launched will accommodate up to 4 people each.

The welding activities of the primary structure of the first module will start in September 2021, with the assembly process concluding in 2022.

The first module will arrive at Axiom facilities in Houston in July 2023, where Axiom will integrate and outfit the core systems and certify it for flight prior to shipping to the launch facility.

For more information on Axiom Space, go to:

Wonders All Around: The Incredible True Story of Astronaut Bruce McCandless II and the First Untethered Flight in Space by Bruce McCandless III; Greenleaf Book Group Press; 284 pages; Hardcover: $24.95.

We have all seen that iconic image – an astronaut in a snow-white spacesuit, untethered and floating free above Earth. Bruce McCandless II made that milestone-making, Buck Rogers-like space cruise in 1984 during his shuttle mission: STS-41B. As a mission specialist, McCandless controlled his movement above the Earth – and just few meters away from the space shuttle Challenger – during the first-ever spacewalk which didn’t use restrictive tethers and umbilicals.

Credit: NASA

This book is a wonderful read, written by his son, Bruce McCandless III. It is a very human tale, one that underscores the astronaut’s perseverance, setback, defeat and redemption.

The book features 22 chapters, including an excellent set of notes.

Astronaut McCandless joined NASA in 1966. He was the youngest of the new astronauts selected that year. He was chosen to be Houston’s capsule communicator for Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they first set foot on the Moon. An astronaut for 24 years, he went on to help design, deploy, and later repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

His son writes: “He was an engineer, a true son of science, a distant nephew of Sir Isaac Newton. He knew the formulas required for achieving orbital velocity, could tell you the fuel mixtures you needed, the stages and timing of rocket-booster separations.”

Former NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II, mission specialist on the STS-41B and STS-31 missions, passed away on Dec. 21, 2017, at the age of 80.

Credit: NASA

The author adds his thoughts when viewing that classic image of his father suspended in the cosmos, “the ant and the ocean.”

“But I see something else in the picture as well. I see the man who named me. He’s shut off from me now, mute and unattainable, sealed up in his pressure suit, as much a mystery to me in this vision as he ever was. As much a mystery as any man is to his son, who spends his life reading the clues a father left behind and remembering his words as he tries, a hundred times, to invent his own life. I don’t remember all those words, but I do hear one. It resonates to this day. Onward.

For more information on this book, go to:

Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy readies Pirs Module for undocking from the Russian segment of the International Space Station.
Credit: Roscosmos


Work is underway on the International Space Station to receive Russia’s new Nauka Multifunctional Laboratory Module.

The Nauka Module is set for a ride atop a Proton-M booster on July 21.

Meanwhile, crewmembers on the ISS are preparing the Pirs Module for undocking from the Russian segment of the ISS. Pirs is to be undocked from the ISS by the Progress MS-16 cargo vehicle on July 23, then ditched into the Pacific Ocean some 4 hours later.

Pirs module: years of use

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov worked together with ground controllers to split the hydraulic circuit and docking unit control communications through the Progress MS-16 cargo vehicle, and checked the docking unit and its systems. After that, the crew took readings from all systems and assemblies of the module.

Russian Pirs Module is to be dumped into the Pacific Ocean.
Credit: NASA

The Pirs Module was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 15, 2001; the hardware was docked to the nadir port of the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS Russian Segment. Over the years, Pirs has been used as an additional berthing port for the Soyuz crewed and Progress cargo spacecraft, as well as an airlock for spacewalks under the Russian program.

The Pirs Docking Compartment consists of a sealed hull and features equipment, service systems and structural elements that ensure spacewalks. The outer side of the hull is covered with thick protection panels and screen-vacuum thermal insulation.

Two active and passive docking nodes are located along the longitudinal axis of Pirs. The active docking node is designed for sealed connection with the Zvezda Service Module. The passive docking node on the opposite side is designed for sealed connection with the Soyuz and Progress ships.

Russia’s new Nauka Multifunctional Laboratory Module.
Credit: Roscosmos

Nauka Multifunctional Laboratory Module logo.
Credit: Roscosmos

Nauka logo

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome, active preparations are underway for the July 21 liftoff of the Nauka Module.

Roscosmos has published a Nauka Multifunctional Laboratory Module logo. The module is depicted in its operational configuration: with the European Robotic Arm (ERA) manipulator deployed, open porthole, and an airlock. The Russian tricolor encircling the module is referring to its origin. The name of the module (НАУКА) “science” is placed along the circumference of the emblem together with the year of its launch, the launch site (БАЙКОНУР, the Baikonur Cosmodrome) and the Proton-M carrier rocket (ПРОТОН-М) to take it into near-Earth orbit.




For a detailed look at the Nauka Module, go to this informative site posted by Roscosmos at:

Next up on Mars? One idea is this Mars aerial craft – the Hexacopter.
Credit: Theodore Tzanetos/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Given the highly successful and ongoing flights of the Ingenuity helicopter on the Red Planet at Jezero Crater, engineers are turning their attention to future aerial craft for Mars.

Cave diving on Mars via a Hexacopter.
Credit: Theodore Tzanetos/NASA/JPL-Caltech

One concept is the Hexacopter, advocated as a way to greatly expand the exploration zone on Mars – including possible deep dives into Martian caves. Technologists have already gleaned loads of technical information from Ingenuity, steadily pushing its capabilities. Now they want to use that data to push for development of a new aerial system for Mars investigation.

Go to my new story, “NASA is mapping out plans for bigger, more capable Mars helicopters – The Mars Science Helicopter could do a variety of work on the Red Planet,” at:

Chang’e-5 return capsule holding lunar specimens.
Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS


The first batch of lunar samples retrieved by China’s Chang’e-5 mission were distributed on Monday to domestic scientific research institutions.

The samples were picked up from the Moon in December 2020 by the Chang’e-5 lunar probe, the first lunar soil sample collection brought back to Earth in more than four decades. The probe returned with 1,731 grams of lunar soil.

More than 17 grams worth of lunar samples brought back by the Chang’e-5 probe were distributed to 13 institutions, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China University of Geosciences (Beijing), China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), and the Sun Yat-sen University.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Under the microscope

The lunar soil seen by the naked eye is like dry black sand, but with finer grains. But under the microscope, it is a whole different view.

“This is the lunar soil, the original sample under the microscope that has not been crushed or polished. We can see many rock pieces in the view, which should be part of basalt. After its disintegration, some pieces still retain their original mineral composition, which we call debris. They are just physically smaller but their structure and mineral composition remain the same as the basalt. For other rock pieces, they actually turned into monominerals, that different types of minerals are separated. You can see the yellow ones in the view are generally olivine, brown ones are usually glass, white are normally plagioclase, and some dark ones are generally pyroxene. These are the main mineral components in basalt,” said Li Chunlai, deputy chief designer of the third phase of lunar exploration project, also chief engineer of the ground application system.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Physical fragmentation

Li told China Central Television (CCTV), unlike the soil on the Earth’s surface, the particles of the lunar soil are relatively small due to the influence of many factors.

“The environment on the Moon’s surface is very harsh. The temperature could reach about 160 degrees Celsius when the sun is shining and drop to minus 180 degrees Celsius when there is no sunlight. With a temperature difference of about 340 degrees Celsius, the rocks constantly undergo thermal expansion and contraction which result in disintegration. This is one factor. Another factor is that the Moon’s surface could be hit by many celestial bodies. The impact could cause physical fragmentation of the rocks,” Li said.

And since the Moon has no magnetic field at present, the solar wind can directly bombard the rocks on the Moon’s surface, which gradually result in the breakdown or even powdering of the rocks.

“The particles could measure a few tenths of a micrometer, a few millimeters or even centimeters. But on average, they are less than 10 microns, which is very, very broken. This is inconsistent with our original cognition and also different from the Apollo sample. It is a very fine lunar soil sample,” said Li.

Credit: CASC

Ensure safety of samples

Liu Jizhong, director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center under the China National Space Agency (CNSA) told CCTV: “Our lunar sample management rules have clear provisions that part of the samples will be used for scientific research and part will be used for public good. After the preliminary study is completed and the re-study would yield little results. We then display them for the public good, letting more people to know more about the Moon.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In order to ensure the safety of the lunar samples, the CNSA is planning to store up some lunar samples in Shaoshan, central China’s Hunan Province, in preparedness against disasters.

“We plan to distribute the samples as much as possible for scientific studies. We must also retain some for future sustained studies. We have a base for ex situ conservation of some samples. All these serve as the basic for following up studies,” said Liu.

Go to these China Central Television (CCTV) videos that focus on the lunar samples at: